Tuesday, May 12, 2009



The old Gringo Trail back in the 1960's and 1970's, started at Isla Mujeres in the Yucutan and went to Cozumel, Tulum and then Caye Caulker on the Barrier Reef of Belize. From there to Tikal in Guatemala and then to Antigua and Lake Atitlan ( Panachjel ).

The route from Tikal was through the island of Flores on Lake Flores, a switch in buses that went dog legging on a rough muddy road to Puerto Barrios and then up the valley to Guatemala City and onwards via the old Pan American Highway.

Nowadays, tourists usually skip Isla Mujeres and Cancun seems to have replaced Cozumel in the tabloids. Caye Caulker is still a premium destination on the Barrier Reef. In Chetumal, Mexico at the frontier, more people are stopping at Lake Bacalar and Maya Hostel in the edge of Chetumal suburbs on the Mexican side of the border. they call it the village of Calderitas. Heven't been there yet, but the spiel reads real good. Then tourists take the bus to Belize City and Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association to the barrier reef island and Tina's Backpackers Hostel on the beach continues to be the top party spot for travelers in their 20's. Been going in one form or another since 1964, now run by the daughter of infamous old Cap'n Ray Auxillou. From Caye Caulker the gringo trail traveler now travels much by Youth Hostels. They are springing up all over the place in Central America. From Caye Caulker and Tina's Backpackers Hostel, the tourist now travels to Western Belize Recreational Area and stays at famous Falconview Backpackers Adventure Hostel, run by Tina's father, now 72 years of age in Santa Elena Town. The big things here are the two Mayan Ruins, Cahel Pech and Xununtanich spanning 3,500 years of human history in this area. The thing about Cahel Pech is that it is older than Tikal and Xununtanich by 1100 years and was built in a previous Mayan Empire to the classical one, most Mayan ruins today are about the later classical Mayan Empire, entirely different. Followed the next day by an all day strenuous adventurous ATM CAVE trek, a mile underground using head lamps into XIBALBA, the entrance to the Mayan underworld of ghosts and myths. There are skeletons and pottery way back in the scary dark ot the ATM Cave all day trip. The cheaper low budget, tourists usually go canoing and kayaking, butterfly farms and do things like horse back riding. Most of Falconview Hostel business are European Backpacker Adventure tourists going either West on the Gringo Trail, from Tina's Hostel on Caye Caulker on the Great Barrier Reef, to the Tikal ruins in the Peten of Guatemala, or coming from Le Ramate Hostel on the small lake, before Tikal going to Caye Caulker on the Belize Barrier Reef, with the stopover in Santa Elena Town in Western Belize for the adventurous tour highlights there. From there, it is on to Le Ramate, a Hostel on a small lake about 8 miles before Tikal ruins. Tikal Mayan ruins are famous and even have a campground near the entrance if you have a tent. The Central American airlines have been advertising and pushing Tikal for 60 years.
This is where the Gringo Trail changes now. From Tikal to Flores, an island on another Lake made famous by Cortez back in the 1500's, when he left his horse there, which became a GOD. If you take a three wheel tuk tuk taxi for a dollar over to the main bus terminal on the mainland in their Guatemalan Santa Elena town, you can get new collectivo mini-buses, very reasonably priced, unlike the ripoff more expensive same type of tourist vans over on the island of Flores. There are two quasi hotel/hostels on the island of Flores. From here you do not go the extra long route through Rio Dulce ( Puerto Barrios area on the coast )then to Guatemala City. Nope, you can skip that longer route these days and go directly to COBAN, changing mini-van collectivo about 3 times. Takes about 5 hours. You can stay there at Casa Blanca Hostel in the center of COBAN. From Coban (80,000 pop ) you can take a side detour to El Retiro Hostel down in a deep valley with a river and fairly remote. They make good chocolate down there as well in the town of Lanquin, the department of Alto Verapaz. When you finish there, you back track to Coban again and go onward to either Antigua, or Lake Atitlan ( Panachjel ) by-passing the huge metropolitan city of Guatemala City. ( traffic is horrendous ) It's paved highway all the way in the back country these days, thanks to Guatemalan oil money. In Antigua there is Jungle Party Hostel right in the central plaza and on the boulevard by the tourist shop area there is a Hospedaje we usually stay at, as they charge by the room but have three beds in there, so you can even travel cheaper. In Panachjel on Lake Atitlan there is a Hospedaje we use called Bueno Samartino down a little alley across the street from the spot where the mini-buses let you off, and at the head of the long tourist store street that slants down to the Lakeside. I've heard there is a Hostel in Panachjel, but don't know it. The highlights here are the tandem jump off the mountain top by paraglider, that spirals down with the gorgeous view and lands on the beach in Panachjel. Climbing one of the live volcanoes is also a big tourist trip for the healthy and strong.

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